Proposal to broaden CBO’s access to government data gets legs in the House

Galeanu Mihai/Getty Images

The bill introduced in the House this week would exempt the Congressional Budget Office from data sharing restrictions in the Privacy Act.

A bipartisan Senate proposal meant to ensure that the Congressional Budget Office has easy access to executive branch data to inform its budgetary and economic analyses now has a House counterpart.

Reps. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., and Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., introduced the House bill on Thursday. 

Originally introduced by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich. — who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the bill passed the full Senate in June last year.

The proposal would exempt CBO from the Privacy Act of 1974, the law governing how agencies can use, store and disclose records with personally identifiable information in them. Currently, that law can tie up and delay CBO’s ability to get information from agencies in procedural delays, lawmakers say, making it more difficult for CBO to complete the estimates required of much of the legislation in Congress.

If passed, CBO would get the same exemption from the Privacy Act as the Government Accountability Office and both chambers of Congress, Peters and Collins said, and the budget office wouldn’t have to negotiate with agencies for data in the same way it does now. 

“The research conducted by the CBO is indispensable to the legislative process,” Collins said in a statement. “Ensuring the CBO promptly receives all the information from federal agencies required for their analyses allows members of Congress to make informed decisions.”

Phillip Swagel, CBO director, told lawmakers during a House Budget Committee hearing this week that his office would appreciate the legislation.

And CBO included a request for legislation to improve the agency’s ability to get executive branch data in its fiscal 2024 budget request, specifically pointing to a provision in the Budget Act that overrules CBO’s authority to get executive branch data if it would violate the law by being shared. 

“That caveat risks undermining the broad data access that the Budget Act is intended to provide,” it says. “The caveat can also delay CBO’s access to data by requiring additional discussions with agencies, thus impairing the timeliness of CBO’s work.”